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Frequently Asked Questions at Algonquin Animal Hospital

Algonquin Animal Hospital believes in the importance of educating Ottawa pet owners about caring for their furry friends. Here, you’ll find the answers to some of our frequently asked questions. Should you not find the answer to your specific question, we encourage you to contact us and speak directly with a member of our staff. We’d be happy to help in any way we can!


How do you become a veterinarian?

In Canada, you have to graduate from a licensed school of veterinary medicine and then pass board examinations before you can practice veterinary medicine. To earn the D.V.M. (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), you’ll need at least six years of university education, although most graduates will spend more than six years. Many in fact earn a B.Sc. prior to entering vet school. High marks from high school are essential in gaining admission to a Canadian veterinary college, as there is a lot of competition.

There are four colleges with one more being added in Calgary, which will apparently graduate only large-animal veterinarians. The four main ones are the Ontario Veterinary College of the University of Guelph, the Western School of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Saskatchewan, the Atlantic College of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Prince Edward Island, and the veterinary college of the Université de Montreal at St. Hyacinthe.

What are your payment policies?

Full payment of all charges is required prior to the discharge of your hospitalized pet. Please note, we highly recommend that you obtain pet insurance to help defray the cost of pet care. Also note:

  • We DO NOT bill.
  • We DO NOT accept cheques.
  • We do accept Visa, MasterCard, and Interac (debit), as well as cash.

If you qualify, you may arrange payment through Medicard®. This must be done prior to arriving to pick up your pet, so please call the receptionist if there is concern about the total of your bill. Medicard® offers a simple and affordable way to finance your veterinary costs. For further details, call 1-888-689-9876 or learn more online at the Medicard® website.

Should I get pet insurance?

We highly recommend that you purchase pet insurance to allow for the optimum care of your furry pals. Because veterinary medicine has advanced to include more sophisticated diagnostics over the years, the costs have risen as a result. Pet insurance helps make veterinary care more affordable. There are a number of insurers available, all with varying premiums and levels of coverage. Petsecure, Trupanion, and Pets Plus Us are among the insurance providers we accept. We recommend checking them all to see which offers you the right amount of coverage with the most affordable premium.

Why does it cost so much to have dental surgery performed on my pet?

This is a very common question because we all go to see a dentist (some of us not as often as we should), and we know how much it costs to go to the dentist. The main reason it costs more to have your pet’s teeth scaled and polished is that, unlike us, your pet will not voluntarily open their mouth, keep it open while we examine and work on their teeth, and refrain from using their sharp teeth to bite down on our valuable hands and fingers. As a result, we have to use an anesthetic to put your pet into an unconscious state so that we can work on their mouth.

This first requires a blood test to ensure there will be no unexpected problems with anesthesia and then requires the use of sophisticated anesthetic machinery, including monitoring equipment. Also, unlike us, when we finish our dental appointment, we simply get off the dental chair and walk out, but our patients have to be monitored and recovered until they can stand and walk. This takes time and is the reason your pet is hospitalized for the day. And lastly, because some of our patients have to wait for some time before their guardian decides to have dentistry performed on them, their mouths and gums are often so bad that we have to start antibiotics before the dental day.

What is early disease detection testing, and why is it important?

In our hospitals, this refers to the evaluation of both blood and urine in senior pets. A senior pet can be as young as 7 years old or as old as 10 years of age, depending on the species and the size of the pet. While we perform a thorough evaluation of an animal during the yearly or twice-yearly examination and question the guardian of the pet closely as to any potential problems that they’ve noticed, we can only determine so much about a pet’s health. This is because certain problems are “under the surface,” or not yet detectable.

We want to know about a condition before the condition becomes a problem. In order to do this, we take samples of blood and urine and perform analyses of these samples. This gives us a great deal of information about the workings of the various organ systems, especially the white blood cells, the red blood cells, and the kidney and the liver. If we find a developing problem before it becomes serious, we have a much greater chance of preventing or delaying further problems. We can do a lot with medication and diets to prolong the life of your pet once we diagnose a medical condition.

Is all pet food created equally?

Absolutely not. In fact, in most cases, the quality of the pet food is directly proportional to its cost, provided that the food is bought from a veterinary hospital, a pet store, or a grocery store. We strongly recommend against buying pet food from distributors whose food is not obtainable from anyone but themselves. The good news is that generally the more expensive the food, the less that you have to feed your pet. So, if you calculated the actual yearly cost between a high-quality food and a cheaper food, there’s not a lot of difference. You’ll pay more at the check-out counter but will return less often.

And more importantly, your pet will have a greater chance to live a longer and healthier life with likely fewer veterinary bills. Also, be very careful of the claims on the labels of pet foods. The most important quality of the food is its digestibility, which will have a very major impact on the long-term health of your pet. In fact, a first-year animal nutrition lesson taught at the University of Guelph showed how to use a piece of old shoe leather, crankcase oil, and a few other odds-and-ends to meet all the requirements of a dog food label. Always remember that the label shows the minimum requirements.

We recommend that you purchase food from the companies that actually test their food on animals (in a very humane way) and that either perform the nutritional research that has greatly improved the longevity of our pets or provide the research funds to universities to conduct this research. These companies include Purina®, the Royal Canin®/Waltham®/Medi-Cal® group, Hill’s®, and The Eukanuba/Iams Group.

Can my pet be vaccinated if it has an ear infection?

Generally speaking, no. The reason for this is that if your pet has an existing health problem, it’s already mounting an immune system response to try to heal itself. If we vaccinate this pet, two things may happen. First, the body’s response to the vaccine may distract and divert the body’s immune system from mounting a successful attempt to heal itself. This will possibly let the existing problem, in this case, an ear infection, get worse and maybe even become dangerous.

Secondly, the reason we vaccinate is to protect the pet against a disease. A pet with a pre-existing health problem has an immune system already compromised. If we vaccinate such an animal, we don’t know how good a response to the vaccine will occur. It may only respond 50% or 60%. We want as close to 100% protection as possible, so if we expect 100% and the body only provides 60% protection, we’re not getting what we want. Even worse is that we’ll assume the pet is protected after we administer the vaccine when, in fact, the pet is not adequately protected.

The better course of action is to treat the pre-existing condition, in this case, an ear infection. Then, after the course of treatment is over, have the pet back for a re-check. At this time, if the infection is sufficiently under control, the veterinarian may decide it’s all right to vaccinate.

My friends say I should let my female dog have puppies before she’s spayed. My vet tells me to spay her before her first heat. Who’s right?

With all deference to your friends, unless they have a D.V.M beside their name, you should listen to your veterinarian. Unless you are particularly interested in letting your female dog have puppies, your veterinarian is correct in recommending that she be spayed before her first heat.

There are two major reasons. The first is that female dogs spayed before their first heat have almost no chance of developing mammary cancer (breast cancer) in later life. This is a definite plus, as intact female dogs are very prone to mammary cancer. This occurrence will possibly result in a shortened life. It will at least result in surgery and rather expensive veterinary bills.

The second reason is that a female dog spayed before her first heat is considered an immature bitch and her reproductive organs are immature, less well-developed with less blood supply, less abdominal fat, and surgically much easier to perform with a lot less risk of surgical complications. As an added bonus, because the surgery is easier to perform, it will be less expensive to you than if she was mature.

Why is it dangerous to feed my cat dog food? I have three small dogs and one cat, so it’s easier to buy one bag of dog food and let them all eat it.

Your cat may not mind eating the dog food, but it will sure mind having a shortened and unhealthy life. Cats are not dogs, which is rather obvious, but in the past, nutritional research was done mainly on dogs, and cats were considered small versions of a dog.

Luckily for cats, the good pet food companies researched the nutritional needs of cats and discovered some very interesting facts, which in one case has made a dramatic improvement in the longevity and health of cats. They discovered that cats, unlike dogs, cannot synthesize an essential amino acid called taurine from other amino acids. Consequently, a cat fed nothing but dog food will be deficient in taurine. Big deal you say. It’s a big deal because these researchers found that a deficiency in taurine is a major cause of a serious cardiac problem in cats, called dilated cardiomyopathy. This is a condition whereby the heart muscle becomes weak and, in order to maintain its ability to pump blood, starts to expand. This expansion or dilation of the cardiac muscle causes the heart to weaken and eventually to fail. As a result, pet food manufacturers add taurine to cat food, and as a consequence, the incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy has decreased tremendously.

There are a number of other reasons to not feed cats dog food, including the fact that cats, unlike dogs, are carnivores and need a higher percentage of protein in their food. Also, the pH of cat food has to be kept in a rather narrow range to prevent the formation of urinary crystals, which can be very harmful to cats.

Do indoor cats need vaccinations?

The whole question of vaccinating is undergoing a great deal of review. We’re learning more each year about the duration of vaccines and consequently, there are going to continue to be changes to our recommendations to our clients. Unfortunately, a lot of the research has been performed on very small samples of dogs and cats, so we have to be very careful in our recommendations. The protection of our clients’ pets is our number-one goal when assessing vaccine needs.

Each case is different, so it’s very hard to make blanket recommendations. It’s best to assess each pet’s exposure level when deciding which vaccines to use. This can best be done during the annual health examination when you can discuss with the veterinarian what your pet’s lifestyle is. For instance, indoor cats in homes where they can meet outdoor cats on the opposite side of window screens are at risk. Does your cat escape outside periodically? Do you have friends visit with their cats or do you take your cat to a home where there are other cats? Do you know if you have any bats living near your home?

These questions all need to be answered before deciding which specific vaccines are needed for your pet, even an indoor cat. Please note: Because rabies is a human health risk, the city of Ottawa requires an up-to-date rabies vaccine on all dogs and cats. Follow the link to read the Ottawa animal care by-law.

Will you ever share my information with a third party?

The federal government enacted a federal law effective January 1, 2004, to regulate the accumulation and use of personal information. What this act means to our clients is that it legislates what our hospital has been doing all along, i.e. the respect and control of information gathered to enable our practice to provide the optimal care to our clients’ pets. We do not share this information with anyone unless we are requested to forward such information to a third party. The only person that we will recognize as authorized to give us this permission, is the owner of record, i.e. the name of the client on the medical record and on our computer records.

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